Today Roger and I went to the Napa Valley to take in one of our favorite local valleys, Franz. This is something we have done very rarely since the onset of the Pandemic: driving someplace else in order to ride. If we’ve even gone out at all—let alone to ride our bikes—we’ve stuck closely to home. I realize that this is the opposite of what you read about online; there writers recount their epic two-wheeled adventures that take them far afield from home as if to say, “The Pandemic? We don’t need to stinkin’ Pandemic!” But for most of us the idea of taking off in the middle of the worst scourge of our lives to parts unknown sounds like a story with an inevitable bad ending. Plus local county health orders as well as California State guidance has been to stay at home. Have we been too literal? Perhaps.
What I’ll say about the ride itself, which happened on a luxuriantly warm and sunny day in the beautiful Napa Valley and hills, is that it’s still there in all its glory for you to enjoy as best you can. Napa Valley is pleasantly flat, which is to say that it’s not really flat at all but actually gently rolling, and the hills on either side provide plenty of routes to escape most of the wine traffic that trolls Silverado Trail and Highway 29/128 and to explore the nether regions. North of Calistoga the traffic diminishes and as soon as you turn off to head to Franz Valley it disappears completely. The trade off is the road quality drops at least two notches since it’s typical Sonoma county asphalt, ie. badly cracked, uneven, and full of pothole patches that have been filled three times over. Just make sure you have some cushy tires! Riding in Franz Valley is like stepping back in time: quiet, uncrowded, still.
Our ride was eye-opening—not for the bucolic scenery but for the near-recovery Napa has made after a couple of years of apocalyptic wildfires and the Pandemic. The entire valley was bustling again and tourists and day trippers were pouring into Calistoga and St. Helena. I’m sure the wineries and restaurants are delighted. But it was a shocking sight for someone who has been hibernating for over a year. Even cycle touring is back: we ran into a Trek Travel tour group—about 20 (!) cyclists—who were cycling Franz Valley in the opposite direction. Traffic was near bumper-to-bumper in the morning when we drove up and worse when we left, which was at 1 pm, hardly the time when the hordes are returning home. In fact we got out of Dodge early precisely because we couldn’t deal with the endless stream of cars and crowds in St. Helena and we still had to endure a fitful return. Instead of heading to Gott’s for some delicious grub we quickly dashed into the Azteca Market, where we had parked, and got burritos (which, by the way, were delicious!) and ate them in the car before heading home apace.
As we passed the local wineries and restaurants, parking lots and outdoor dining areas were packed. There was a long line out the Oakville Grocery. The scene at both Mustards and Brix looked like one gigantic party.
Well, the Pandemic has to end sometime and maybe that time is now. People are still wearing masks and socially distancing. But the Stay-At-Home has gone by the wayside and people are partying like it’s 2019.
My advice to those of you thinking of riding in Napa: go there on a weekday when it’s quieter and probably a bit safer.